Author – Kate, Australia
“Yet another food scandal in China.” People hardly raise their eyebrows these days as such headlines has become so commonplace. From melamine-tainted milk to cooking oil retrieved and recycled from the drain, it seems never ending. Not just that, consumers also needs to be on guard against fake food scandal news such as the one on seaweed last year. Blockchain and all that it stands for could be a very plausible solution in addressing the issue of data authenticity.
In fact such initiatives has already taken place in China since May 2017 between JD.com, one of China’s largest e-commerce platform with Kerchin, a beef manufacturer at Inner Mongolia. Consumers at Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing are able to track the history of the beef purchased on JD from production to delivery. This includes the exact farm the cow is from, the name of the vet tending to the cow, the food safety tests conducted, the feed used along with the dates for these processes. These data are easily retrievable by consumers via a quick QR code scan on JD’s app.
JD built this blockchain framework based on the architectural adaptation of Hyperledger, an open-source project. It starts with Kerchin collecting and storing data through the scanning of barcodes in its own production line and handing it on to JD. Changes require digital signatures from both sides and both sides will be instantly informed of any changes. While this sound very foolproof against the tampering of information, it relies on the accurate and truthful recording of information and fraudsters could lie within the organization. Data lapses are another possible obstacle towards the reliability of the data and spot checks are conducted for verification purposes.
JD’s initiatives are not the odd one out and many organizations are racing to achieve food security in China. Take for example the collaboration between Walmart, Tshinghua University in Beijing, and IBM in 2016 to put pork in China on blockchain. Just like JD, Walmart is capitalizing on Hyperledger’s software that is based on the Linux foundation that is a non-profit organization maintaining the code. Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company is also on track with collaboration announcements in March 2017 involving three local Australian companies including the likes of PwC Australia for tracking beef supply from Australia.
Experimentations are ongoing in China to enhance traceability of food with the National Platform of Tracking Food Safety making up to 79.1 million items (link in Chinese) traceable through barcodes as of Jan 13 this year. This trend will continue and changing the mindset of businesses to be more willing to share their trade information along with having the infrastructure to allow such exchange of information is imperative in driving the success of these initiatives.